The Difference Between Disappointment & Discouragement

Photo by  KS KYUNG  on  Unsplash

Photo by KS KYUNG on Unsplash

It’s a lovely day, but I have a lingering headache.

The sun is shining, but my plants are getting scorched.

I spoke understandable Arabic to my neighbor, but I got lost in her long-winded response.

The watermelons look fresh and yummy, but I need to lug them up four flights of stairs to bring them home.

I’m enjoying my coffee at the café, but the table next to me is so loud.

I finally caught a taxi, but the driver has to drop off the other riders first. It’s taking so long!

Lots of “buts” in those statements. Did you notice?

I’m happy, but not totally.

I’m thankful, but there are niggling issues.

I’m content . . . sort of.

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Disappointment. The feeling of sadness when your hopes or expectations aren’t fulfilled. Slight sighs of annoyance or discomfort. A little gray cloud descending right on your head.

Disappointment is common. But at this point, watch out! If you dwell on disappointments, the little gray cloud may cruelly rain large droplets which create a swamp around you. Ever try to escape quickly out of a swamp? It takes effort. Likewise, a feeling of disappointment, if nursed, can lead to “swampy” discouragement.

Discouragement is feeling disheartened and lacking courage to face the day.

It is an attitude of hopelessness and defeat.

It steals from our time, plummets our mood, and can make us hard to be around.

It is an attitude that must be fought against.

The greatest source of discouragement is the conviction that one is unable to do something.
— Maria Montessori, Italian Educator

Here are five contributing factors that could cause disappointment to slip into discouragement.

1) Situations Around Us Feel Out of Control

How did you envision your day would turn out—the visit to authorities to register your car, the opening of a bank account, the taxi ride to work, the run with a workout buddy? I imagine it was a mix of unexpected, coupled with expected, occurrences.

It’s difficult, though, when most of the events in your life are unexpected, feeling out of control.

Chaotic circumstances and helplessness can quickly slide into discouragement and hopelessness.


Watch out! When life feels out of control, remember there are still parts of life you can control—like your attitude and your words. Hone up on some of the reasons for stress in North Africa so that your expectations are realistic. Find others who will listen to you and provide hope and help.

2) Comparing

Does the grass seem greener somewhere else? Or more culturally pertinent—does her beef couscous seem tastier, her language smoother, her kids better behaved and acclimated than yours?

Comparison is a deadly habit. It’s like a ladder we try to climb up, measuring our identity and worth in how high up the rungs we go.

Depending on the day, we go up and down that ladder, and our emotions and outlook follow. “I’m better than she is at decorating a home.” Feeling happy!  “But she’s better at entertaining guests.” Feeling sad.

Watch out! Be aware of any comparison your mind entertains. It leads only to discouragement or arrogance. Be yourself. Remember your identity isn’t measured by your made-up “ladder of success.” Cultivate thankfulness for the gifts and strengths of the people around you.

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3) Poor Self-talk

Self-talk, the continuing monologue in your mind, processes the day’s activities and conversations. When the chatter turns all negative, it becomes poor self-talk. During mundane tasks and when you’re tired, the temptation to interpret negatively increases.

For me, the inner conversations began during the evening dishwashing fest. I relived interactions of the day, reexamined cultural situations that I didn’t understand, and picked apart my responses.

“I should have . . .” spent more time with my kids, greeted that neighbor, budgeted for car breakdowns.

“I shouldn’t have . . .” shaken the religious man’s hand, paid my gardener so much, eaten five cookies.

We are often our worst critics.

Watch out! Disappointment can quickly descend into discouragement in the mind. In the time it takes to say, “In sha’allah,” you can convince yourself that you completely failed in all areas of life that day.

Be wise in what you think about. Look at situations objectively, not analyzing and picking apart every element. Learn through failures. Talk them through with a native speaker to help you understand the culture better. Tomorrow is another day.

4) Complaining

There’s a fine line between being honest about difficulty and complaining—do you know where this line is? The words might be similar, both expressing dissatisfaction, but the attitude and outlook are different.

Complaining comes with an attitude of entitlement. An attitude that conveys, “I deserve this but I’m not getting it.” This could be something concrete like real chocolate instead of a crappy imitation. Usually though, it’s abstract — a hassle-free day for once, fair treatment with the officials, a spouse that doesn’t nag. I wanted this, and I didn’t get it. Complaining sometimes leads to blame, criticizing, and despair.

Honest conversation speaks the truth, yet searches for ways to be thankful. The difficulty isn’t necessarily minimized, but the outlook is one of hope, faith, and in some cases, forgiveness.

Watch out! Complaining can quickly descend into whining and discouragement. Like gum stuck on a shoe tread, it leaves a mess, affects others, and isn’t quick to remove. In fact, some research shows that developing a long habit of complaining can rewire the brain to make negative thoughts ingrained.

Filter your experiences through a lens of thankfulness and hope. Your family and friends will thank you too!


5) Sensitive Disposition

Because of their past experiences or personalities, some folks can more easily become discouraged than others. Sensitive souls, filled with mercy and taking on outside burdens, have an easier slide into the “discouragement swamp.” The needs of the world and the sorrows of others can quickly become your own if you are a master at over-empathizing. The sensitive are also often more tender toward critiques and more harsh toward themselves.

Watch out! Know yourself. Talk with someone to come up with a plan to become more resilient. Be kind to yourself.

Disappointment is inevitable.
But to become discouraged, there’s a choice I make.
— Charles Stanley, American author

Being aware of these temptations to discouragement is the first step. The second — be on guard and watch out. It’s a well-worn path to the swamp. Hopefully, you won’t be sliding into it today!